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The Crier’s Sacrifice

Part I: Infiltration

Chapter Eight: Hidden Dangers

Nathan Black
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On the evening of June 25, as the sun slipped down behind them, Honir and his party reached the gates of Pakil. A city as ancient as the she-dragon it was named for, the walls looked like they could hold out against Gelz himself. Unfortunately, the gates were shut.

“Shall we...” Forat began, whipping out his knives. He used them for much more than killing.

“No,” Honir snapped. He wasn’t going to risk scaling the walls, even if it meant spending yet another night out in the open in Tanaveri. “We’ll camp here and enter the city tomorrow morning. And I want a watch posted tonight; King Beynar probably guards this spot more than any other in the entire country.”

With a frustrated grimace, Yiratam set off to gather firewood. The rest of the group sat down, grateful for a little rest. Their routine for the past five days had been slow, tedious, and irritatingly necessary. Honir had recognized one of the men arrested on the Pakil Road as they lay hidden in the underbrush nearly a week ago; he had been a Rogilian spy for thirty years. “The business” (as those in the espionage trade called their work) was getting more and more difficult.

No one could say exactly how many spies were inside Tanaveri at any given time; certainly more than were in any other country. Every nation but Mallsey had a secret network of varying sizes, from a puny twelve in Wystarin to an army-sized four hundred in Esanta, Honir’s homeland. Of course, most of the Esantan agents were arrested on their first attempt at espionage, and any cut-purse or petty thief who wanted a legitimate income could go to Indimer and offer their services.

Lying back, Honir closed his eyes. His legs relaxed for the first time all day, and sleep fell over him like the blanket he hadn’t had in weeks.

The clank of steel on steel awoke him abruptly. As his vision became clear, he saw Yiratam dancing about, grimly meeting the blades of three large, clumsy shapes with a single dagger. Did trolls really dare to come this close to a human community? Even a Malthanian person shied away from the giant oafs.

He stealthily went around to the other two party members, sleeping deeply and peacefully. Forat was first, of course; his skills were needed immediately. “Forat,” he whispered. The man opened his eyes immediately, and sat up.

“Yes, sir?” he asked tiredly.

“Could we have your help for a moment?” Honir requested, gesturing at the battle going on behind them.

Before the leader could blink, one of the trolls cried in agony, and fell dead with a knife in his chest. Another, startled by its companion’s death, let down its guard and had its throat slit by Yiratam. The last beast, looking around in terror, screamed and bolted. It went about five feet before also falling dead, with a dagger in its back.

“Three left,” Forat muttered. “I shall have to borrow some in the city tomorrow.” Glancing down at Salintia, who slept untroubled, he shook his head in confusion and disdain.

“Well done,” Honir congratulated as loudly as he dared. He was worried that the trolls’ death cries had been overheard, and that an army of humans would be pouring out of the gates soon.

“I don’t know what we’d do without you, Forat,” Yiratam said breathlessly, wiping his own dagger on his sleeve and sheathing it. “They came on me at once, and almost chopped me into pieces before I could react.

“Good thing it wasn’t Salintia on watch,” he added, also cocking his head at the sleeping woman.

“What time is it, do you think?” Honir asked his followers.

“Three o’clock, maybe,” Yiratam shrugged. “I went on watch at midnight.”

“Well, if it’s that late, I won’t be going back to sleep,” the leader announced. “If the rest of you want to, you may, and I’ll keep watch.”

“I have enough adrenaline in my body to confront Malthan herself,” Yiratam replied. “I’ll stay up.”

Forat simply sat down on a nearby rock and watched them, feeling at his remaining daggers with disapproval.

As Honir seated himself by the fire, his brow furrowed with thought. What idiot would send three trolls against four of the brightest and most resourceful humans in the world? And how did they know they were even in Tanaveri? Could the river monster have been accompanied by another, silent guard that could relay information to its superiors? Those questions alone were what kept the leader awake.

Closing his eyes, Nilrid drew the magic without thinking. Patiently, he shrunk the amount down, and placed a healthy fire on the wood he had set out. Then, as the logs began to crackle, he made a sheet of non-stone and placed it on the rock roof, to make a chimney of sorts. He had been learning from Iquen for just five days, and already, he knew almost everything that would be of any use to him.

Non-stone, and other non-substances, were among the most useful creations the boy could make. When the non-stone came in contact with the real stone, both canceled each other out, and a hole was left. His imp instructor had said that there was a way to create non-people, and thus take a person out of existence, but refused to teach the boy how.

“Not even Necromancers will use that spell, because it upsets the balance of Derenda,” he had said. “I stumbled upon the way by accident, and used it on a troll during an ambush sprung on my party. The next morning, a tall, black-haired woman knocked on my door, grabbed me by my shirt-collar, and told me that I had almost destroyed the world right there. She served Malthan, I’m sure, but even they have a respect for the awesome power that elimination has.”

Of course, Nilrid hardly needed that technique to be effective in combat. In tests with straw dummies, he had left little more than the smell of burnt grass. The actual “person” simply vanished.

The door opened, and Iquen walked in. “Good news, Nilrid!” he said cheerily. “The Archmage finally has time for you, and will receive you tomorrow morning.”

The boy sighed contentedly. He had been trying to get an audience with the leader of the imps since the day after he arrived. “And after I speak with her, will you let me continue with my quest?”

“Nobody’s keeping you, my boy,” Iquen chuckled. “Any time you want to leave, just teleport yourself away.”

“But sir, I haven’t learned...”

“No, you haven’t. Part of wizardry is resourcefulness, and I couldn’t think of any better way to give you that. Use your wits, Nilrid, and find a way. I’d rather you speak to the Archmage before you make your break, though.”

The boy nodded. “Thank you, Iquen—I think.”

He meant it jokingly, but the imp cocked his head and replied seriously, “You will thank me without doubt when you’re surrounded by twelve Necromancers and have to think of a way to dig yourself out. After all, not everything can be solved by spitting out what I’ve taught you in the last five days. Well, I’ll leave you to think things over. Be sure to get a good night’s sleep; the Archmage is rarely appreciative of those who fall asleep in the middle of an audience.”

As his instructor left, Nilrid sat back, deep in thought. He could make just about anything with magic, but how could he use that to get from one place to another? It seemed impossible.

How do people travel? he asked himself rhetorically. Either on foot, or by horse... but both are on a road! Closing his eyes, he drew power, shrank it down, and shaped a simple, dirt road. Placing it on the ground in front of him, he opened his eyes. There was a road, running all the way to the wall—and stopping. Some luck he was having.

Then, another idea hit him. Maybe he could use non-air to make a hole in space, and step through it! Magical energy was still in him, so he was able to make a sheet of material in less than a minute.

As the non-air and the real air canceled each other out, a black, man-sized hole appeared. The room grew bitterly cold, but Nilrid ignored the goosebumps on his arm as he stepped through the hole and out of the real world.

Blackness surrounded him on every side, so that the exit from the dark cosmos was barely visible. Despite a feeling of looming death in every direction, the boy sensed that someone, or perhaps several someones, were nearby. Walking carefully through the void, he followed the feeling, until he finally reached the source.

There were two beings, both invisible. From an indescribable, gut feeling, Nilrid could tell that one was on the left, and the other on the right.

Suddenly, the being on the right spoke. It had a female voice, but not pleasant, and probably inhuman. It was smooth, icy, and ancient. The owner had to be at least a thousand years old.

“IT IS A GREAT PLEASURE TO SEE YOU ONCE MORE, MASTER,” the voice said. As the sounds settled around Nilrid, his head swam. Whoever was speaking, her very presence radiated evil, enough to drive a person insane.

I have spoken with no one in quite a while,” the second being replied. The boy couldn’t tell what sex this entity was, or if it even had a sex. The voice was sharp, centrally-pitched, and seemed to be even older than the first. “But you have managed well without me, I’ve observed.

“THANK YOU, MASTER,” the female said, sounding truly grateful behind her unimaginable evil. “I AWAIT YOUR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.”

Derenda is no longer valuable in the interests of the True Divine. I request that you destroy the world, and allow yourself to be relocated to a temporary home, until we can find a proper place for you.

Nilrid felt a pang of fear in the female’s emotions, but she seemed to ignore it completely. “ARE YOU CERTAIN THAT IS BEST, MASTER?”

Don’t challenge me, my child. Of course I’m certain.

“YES, MASTER, BUT THERE ARE MORTALS AVAILABLE CAPABLE OF WIPING OUT ALL LIFE CREATED BY GELZ. WOULD DERENDA BE USEFUL IF IT WAS PURELY MALTHANIAN, DO YOU THINK?”

The other being paused thoughtfully. “Yes, I think it would be. But I want you to understand, child, that you must leave no exceptions. Every bird, beast, imp, and human—especially the humans—must be eliminated.

“AS YOU COMMAND, MASTER.”

Then go. Do not trouble me again until the Gelzan scourge is wiped from existence. And you might get rid of Gelz, too, while you’re at it.

Realizing that in the next instant, the female was going to leave the meeting, and probably see him, Nilrid fled for dear life. At first, his mind was a jumble of fear and unanswered questions, but before he could get himself hopelessly lost in the void, he was able to collect himself. Methodically, he worked his way back to where he had come, and finally found the tall, wide opening. Sighing with relief, he leaned forward and stepped back into the real world.

The hole closed immediately, and the boy fell on his bed with exhaustion. However one teleported from one place to another, he certainly hadn’t found the way yet. Nilrid slept lightly, his mind barely willing to let go of the troubling challenge that lay before him.

8/23
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Copyright ©Nathan Black, 1998
By the same author RSSThere are no more works at Badosa.com
Date of publicationJanuary 2000
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
Permalinkhttps://badosa.com/n071-08
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